Are we afraid of our suffering? The answer is simply this: yes. Almost all people on this planet tend to be very afraid of pain and suffering. I’m writing to tell you this: don’t be. All humans experience various forms of pain and suffering, whether that be somatic, psychological, personal, or spiritual. Pain is unavoidable for everyone and can be extremely challenging for us. But once we understand this fact of life, that pain and suffering are unavoidable, we have the potential to transcend it by choosing our attitudes toward it and deriving meaning from it.
I have often heard from others that “everything happens for a reason,” often in the context of pain and suffering. Some people say, “remember: God has a reason/plan in all of this,” or, “we will never understand God’s reasoning for this.” I have a tendency to cringe when I hear someone refer to this common approach to suffering, as I do not believe that God specifically causes pain and suffering; however, from hearing statements similar to those mentioned above, it seems only natural to draw the conclusion that God allows pain and suffering to happen because something good may come out of it. We know that something good does not come from all pain and suffering. So, these thoughts must be claiming that there is a certain condition in which something good may come from pain and suffering.
By no means do all forms of pain and suffering hold a benefit for us. In fact, there are ways in which we don’t benefit from pain and suffering at all. In large, this is due to the fact that we tend to focus on the different ways that we can cope and reduce the pain of our circumstances. I remember, just in the past week, multiple occasions where I saw someone automatically go to their phone after talking about something painful. It is very likely that they were trying to avoid the pain by being distracted with Facebook, Instagram, or any other form of attention-diversion they can find on their phones. Instead of trying to focus on reducing our pain, we should instead try to discover what we can learn from our pain. If a person succeeds in enduring through pain and suffering, and finds meaning through it, he or she opens the potential for development within the transpersonal dimension, resulting in profound transformation of character. Through this, one’s mental and spiritual faculties can unfold, be enlarged, and reinforced.
Paul also writes on the subject of strengthening through suffering in his letter to the church of Corinth: “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’… So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, only then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). To Paul, suffering is not a sign of weakness, but it is instead a tool to find his weakness. By finding meaning within his spirituality, he is able to both transcend himself, as well as grow more and more towards the person of Christ. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”